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Federal ruling on Florida transgender law welcome, but 'damage has already been done'

FILE A handful of protestors took to the streets of downtown Bradenton Tuesday evening to condemn Gov. Ron DeSantis’ latest bill signing, calling it a methodical attack on transgender rights.
Ryan Callihan
The Miami Herald
FILE A handful of protestors took to the streets of downtown Bradenton Tuesday evening to condemn Gov. Ron DeSantis’ latest bill signing, calling it a methodical attack on transgender rights.

A federal judge on Tuesday permanently blocked a Florida law that restricted medical care for the transgender community — calling it unconstitutional and discriminatory.

The ruling means that, immediately, transgender people in Florida can have access to the same medical care they were able to receive two years ago, before the law SB 254 passed.

Federal judge Robert Hinkle, of the Northern District of Florida, said the law was only passed out of a sense of “anti-transgender animus” from elected officials.

The law banned all gender-affirming care for minors. Another part created restrictions on healthcare for transgender adults, requiring that they only be treated by licensed physicians, and banning telehealth screenings. Many transgender individuals receive medical attention from registered nurses, who are often hired for lower costs by nonprofits that serve the LGBTQ+ community.

“Everything was adjusted to this hateful law ... What will be impacted most of all is adolescent care. For adults the damage has already been done.”
Corinne Mariposa

Last year, Miami-based transgender woman Corinne Mariposa spoke to WLRN about how the law immediately put her ability to find gender-affirming medications at risk, since she received care from a nurse practitioner.

“It started the day after this law was signed. I went to a regular appointment at my regular care provider that I’ve had for the last five years and my nurse practitioner told me in the hallway that they could no longer legally see me,” she said last year.

The effects of having her access to medical care took several months to sort out, she told WLRN on Wednesday.

“I did what most every trans person I knew did, which was: Get their pills from Canada or Venezuela,” she said.

The federal ruling is a welcome development, but it comes too late for many transgender adults, she said. That’s because several transgender friends chose to leave Florida once the law went into effect.

“They aren’t coming back,” said Mariposa.

“Everything was adjusted to this hateful law, most of the organizations that serve the community have already made the switch to hiring full physicians,” she said. “What will be impacted most of all is adolescent care. For adults the damage has already been done.”

READ MORE: Judge strikes down Florida’s ban on transgender care for minors

Despite that, she hopes the decision will deter other states from enacting similar laws. Florida was the first state to pass such a sweeping law restricting access to gender-affirming healthcare.

“I can see there being very positive impacts across the US,” said Mariposa.

The case has been certified class-action, so it impacts every transgender person in the state of Florida.

“One of the greatest harms that came from this law was the number of transgender adults who — in one day — were immediately displaced from their care,” said Simone Chriss, an attorney with Southern Legal Counsel, a group that took the case to trial.

“They had trusted medical providers who have expertise in the treatment of gender dysphoria, and so many of my adult clients have not been able to establish care with a new provider.”

'No factual basis'

During the federal trial the state was unable to put forward a single witness who regretted gender-affirming medical care they received in the state, either as an adult or as a minor.

Judge Robert Hinkle singled out comments made by Governor Ron DeSantis and other lawmakers suggesting that giving transgender children gender-affirming medical care amounted to castration or sterilization.

“At least insofar as has been shown by this record, no transgender minor has ever been castrated or intentionally sterilized in Florida or elsewhere,” Hinkle wrote in the opinion. He added that in the closing arguments of the trial, attorneys for the state “admitted that there was absolutely no factual basis for these remarks.”

A man speaks from behind a lectern, in front of a group of young people.
Daniel A. Varela
Miami Herald
FILE - Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses the crowd before publicly signing HB7, "individual freedom," also dubbed the "stop WOKE" bill during a news conference at Mater Academy Charter Middle/High School in Hialeah Gardens in April of 2022.

The American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Academic Pediatric Association and a laundry list of other medical groups and associations filed briefs with the court siding with transgender individuals and against the state of Florida in the court case. Hinkle said that he heavily relied on guidance from the groups in reaching his conclusions about the case.

“Transgender opponents are of course free to hold their beliefs. But they are not free to discriminate against transgender individuals just for being transgender,” the judge wrote.

Chriss told WLRN the judge’s ruling has been a balm for a community that felt real harm from the law.

“Honestly laying out some of the horrific things that have been said and the ways in which Florida has really just attacked trans people across the board — has been so validating for the people who have been living through this,” said Chriss.

The DeSantis administration said that it will appeal the ruling.

”We disagree with the court’s erroneous rulings on the law, on the facts, and on the science,” Julia Friedland, DeSantis’ deputy press secretary, wrote in a statement. “As we’ve seen here in Florida, the United Kingdom, and across Europe, there is no quality evidence to support the chemical and physical mutilation of children. These procedures do permanent, life-altering damage to children, and history will look back on this fad in horror.”

In the meantime, transgender Floridians — minors and adults — can access the same care they could access before SB 254 went into effect last year.

“Right now this order is binding,” said Chriss. “People can access care freely.”

Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team. Before joining WLRN, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion. He can be reached at drivero@wlrnnews.org
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